Much has been written about the need for kindness, especially in the small encounters that make up our daily lives. You know – a sincere thank you to the person helping you in a store or on the phone, a generous tip at a restaurant, help opening a package or offering directions for someone who appears lost, or listening sympathetically to someone’s tale of woe. But sometimes these acts of kindness take on surprising forms.
During the American Civil War, snipers in the woods would sometimes come upon enemies who were taking a dump. The usual practice, as an act of kindness, was to wait until the enemy was done and had his pants pulled up before shooting him.
In a similar vein, I read that members of the Mafia, when executing a hit on rivals, would kill their target with shots to the heart rather than the head. This was done out of kindness, so the victim could have an open casket funeral.
Kindness can work in more than one way. If a gentleman opens a car door for a lady, that is an act of kindness that shows old fashioned respect. It also gives the gentleman a chance to let out one last fart before getting in the car – an act of kindness, surely.
When I was teaching at Exeter, I was assigned to be in the receiving line at the prom. What this meant is that the guys would introduce their dates to me on the way in – a holdover from some archaic practice – and then shake my hand. These guys were smooth and a bit cocky, so I did an act of kindness for a few of them, whispering to each that his fly was open. Each one checked with awkward embarrassment. This was a kind thing for me to do, even though I was lying to these preppy guys, because nobody should go through life being that cocky.
Henry VII was unhappy with his latest wife, Anne Boleyn, because she was unable to produce the son and heir that Henry wanted. He decided she had to be executed, and he concocted accusations of numerous affairs, incest with her brother, high treason, and witchcraft. In an act of kindness, however, he ordered that she be beheaded with a sword rather than a common axe. It is unclear how important this kindness was to her.
The uptight among you might not see these examples as kindness, and you are probably right. The word “kind” is derived from an Old English word meaning “kin.” So being kind to someone means to treat them like kinfolk, like family. (This is assuming that family members treat each other with kindness, a problematic assumption to be sure.) We are all part of the human family, even those obnoxious idiots who disagree with me politically. So, execute them with a sword, not a common axe, and do it when they don’t have their pants down in the woods.